A Few More Flicks

Ford v Ferrari

The Guardian summarized the movie saying: “A relaxed Matt Damon brings his familiar, untroubled boyish charm to the role of Carroll Shelby, the racing-driver-turned-designer who was hired by Ford in the late 60s to put together a car and a team that would defeat Ferrari, those arrogant Italian artisans who presumed to think that their tiny little outfit had an artistry and flair superior to the corporate mass production of Ford.

Christian Bale plays Ken Miles, the difficult, impulsive, grumpy but brilliant Brit hired by Shelby as his star driver – to the irritation of the pointy-headed, bean-counting suits at Ford, who want an obedient team player. Tracy Letts plays Henry Ford Jr with gusto and Josh Lucas plays Leo Beebe, his creepy assistant. Jon Bernthal does what he can with the underwritten and underimagined role of Lee Iacocca, the Ford executive whose idea it evidently was in the first place for Ford to go into the glamorous but costly world of motor racing.”

Assuming that both Damon and Bale are well-known to you, I thought I would instead include a photo of the Ford car that was designed to take on the Italians at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Guardian headlined its review, “… motor-racing drama gets stuck in first gear.” Hardly an endorsement. The NY Times reviewer was far more charitable, writing that, “Ford v Ferrari” is no masterpiece, but it is — to invoke a currently simmering debate — real cinema, the kind of solid, satisfying, nonpandering movie that can seem endangered nowadays.”

I liked the movie despite its length, and in large part for its racing scenes. But at two and a half hours in length, you might want to invest in a large bag of popcorn.

The Peanut Butter Falcon

This is a charming movie. You may have missed it in theatres, but see it on demand, if possible. Rotten Tomatoes ratings were in the mid-90’s (out of 100) for both critics and audiences.

The movie stars Zac (Zack Gottsagen) as a young man with Down syndrome who has been placed in a nursing home simply because there are no alternatives. Zac escapes the home, goes on the run, and over time, bonds with Shia LaBeouf’s character, Tyler (pictured with Zack’s character above), and with his care-giver Eleanor (played by Dakota Johnson), who has been instructed to bring Zac back to the nursing home. Great cameos by Bruce Dern and Thomas Hayden Church, but the movie belongs to Zack Gottsagen. A great little movie.

The Irishman

“The Irishman,” directed by Martin Scorsese, stars Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano and Harvey Keitel. It goes in many directions, but at the core is the emergence of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino’s character) as head of the Teamsters Union, and his subsequent “disappearance.” The Roger Ebert website had this to say: “… clocking in at three-and-a-half hours, the movie is an alternately sad, violent, and dryly funny biography of Frank Sheeran, a World War II combat veteran who became a Mafia hitman and then a union leader, and who had a long, at times politically fraught friendship with Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa …”

In his review of “The Irishman,” Joe Morgenstern, film critic (and a tough critic at that) for The Wall Street Journal, wrote, “After scores of celebrated films and almost half a century of richly deserved fame, Martin Scorsese did not seem poised for a breakthrough. That’s what he’s accomplished in “The Irishman,” though, and on familiar—indeed overfamiliar—terrain.”

In theatres from November 1, but now available on Netflix. Scorcese uses all the tricks of his trade, including “de-aging” some of the actors (DeNiro goes from 76 to mid-50s, for example).

Mr. DeNiro and Mr. Pacino is the following, and prior to “de-aging.” Apparently Mr. Pacino has something in common with Boris Johnson and Donald Trump – the same hair stylist. Nice. Well worth seeing the movie, regardless. I did it in 45 minute bites.

Midway

“To say that “Midway,” a new cinematic re-creation of the decisive 1942 air and sea battle from Roland Emmerich, the director of “Independence Day,” soars to the heights of his best work is to say it sputters along at sea level. It is rousing and respectful in its best moments and faintly ridiculous in others.” This from the NY Times reviewer.

Considering that this and other reviews of the movie have been tepid, I hesitated seeing “Midway;” also recalling the infinitely more tepid 1976 version that starred Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda and other Hollywood heavyweights. I was never a fan of Heston, who was able to put my father to sleep during his reading of “The Five Books of Moses” on the Ed Sullivan show in the 60s. Not exactly riveting.

But that aside, I was talked into seeing “Midway,” the 2019 version, and glad I did. Off I went, with four gentlemen from the neighbourhood (something we do every so often, when a “guy” movie is playing). “Midway” is well done, with a feel of a documentary rather than a theatrical release. Ignore the dialogue, and enjoy the retelling of history, and the impressive special effects.

Knives Out

The reviewer on the Roger Ebert website called “Knives Out,” “one of the most purely entertaining films in years. It is the work of a cinematic magician, one who keeps you so focused on what the left hand is doing that you miss the right. And, in this case, it’s not just a wildly fun mystery to unravel but a scathing bit of social commentary about where America is in 2019.”

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal described ‘Knives Out” as “a modern whodunit in the hallowed tradition of Agatha Christie. The filmmaker who did it is Rian Johnson — his previous film was “Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi” — and what he has done is create an entertainment that’s as smart, witty, stylish and exhilarating as any movie lover could wish for.”

Above: Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson and Michael Shannon in “Knives Out.” The movie also stars Chris Evans, Toni Colette, Ana de Armas (very good), and in the lead, Daniel Craig, as Benoit Blanc, a private detective called in to investigate the death of the family patriarch (Christopher Plummer). Daniel Craig is much more than a memorable James Bond. He was terrific as a gangster in “Road to Perdition,” and again in “Layer Cake,” and hilariously comedic in “Logan Lucky.” Daniel below as Joe Bang in “Logan Lucky” and in the foreground as 007. To say he is fun to watch in “Knives Out” is understatement.

“Knives Out” reminds me of “Murder By Death,” a farcical murder mystery from 1976 starring Peter Sellers, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, David Niven, Maggie Smith, and Truman Capote. A movie I need to see every few years. “Knives Out” is that kind of must see.

Pickleball Redux

I wrote about pickleball here back in August. The sport is booming. The photo following was taken from the USA Pickleball Association website, and it depicts play in the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships that were held in Indian Wells, CA from November 2-10. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which hosts the BNP Paribas tennis tournament each March, had 49 tennis courts converted into pickleball courts (no small feat) to accommodate the more than 2500 participants. One wag said of the pickleball championship; “This is the big dill!” I get it.

For a parking fee of 10 bucks and an all-day admission pass of 5 bucks you could view as much pickleball as long as you were able to withstand the 90 degree F temperatures. We lasted two hours watching mixed doubles, and I had some observations: Many of the men hogged the court (not this gentleman however); and many of the men appeared to have played in what they slept in the night before (although their partners looked just lovely); and while most contestants were gracious, there were some very dubious line calls (as players are required to self-police). All-in-all though, it’s a great spectator experience and one that causes me to think that I should dust off my racquet and revisit the game.

Apart from some very spirited play, the most impressive feature of this championship is the venue. The Tennis Garden is spectacular.

My only disappointment? No sign of Margaritaville’s Jimmy Buffett.

The Ecclestones

It was never my intention to have my “blogue” be a celebrity gossip site, as just the word “celebrity” causes me to cringe. For example, should anything about the Kardashians be worth more than a millisecond of one’s time? But there are occasions when I cannot help myself. So when I saw a recent newspaper headline that more than $66 million worth of jewelry had been stolen from the home of Tamara Ecclestone, I knew I had to investigate.

This is Tamara. She is described as a model and socialite, and once had her own television reality show. The latter begs the question: What is “real” about a 35 year old heiress, who lives in an exclusive part of London, England in a 57 room house worth perhaps $100 million?

By the way, I sorted through about two dozen photos of Tamara, and in only one or two was she actually wearing any jewelry. Oh, and here is her London home where the robbery took place.. Tamara and her family as of this writing were in Gstaad, Switzerland, bemoaning their bad fortune while hunkered down in their $30 million dollar chalet.

As I dug a little deeper into the mystery of the missing jewelry, I discovered that Tamara is a daughter of Bernie Ecclestone. The 89 year old Bernie, according to Forbes, is worth just over $3 billion, and is described as a “British business magnate.” Born the son of a fisherman, Bernie rose to prominence taking Formula One racing from its modest beginnings to a global presence, eventually selling Formula One for $4.4 billion. It turns out that Bernie is also a magnet of sorts for very tall and much younger women. Bernie is reportedly 5 feet 3 inches tall. I know little of his first wife, but wife number two, Slavica (mother of Tamara and her sister Petra), is 6’ 1” and 28 years younger than Bernie. And, as if the height difference wasn’t already significant, here is Slavica with Bernie in three inch heels. Her heels, not his.

Sadly, Bernie and Slavica divorced after 23 years of marriage, with Slavica receiving a settlement reported to be in the vicinity of a billion dollars.

Bernie, however, got right back on the bike, and in 2012 he married a Brazilian lady, Fabiana Flosi. She was born the year Bernie turned 47. That’s the happy couple in the following.

No life is without its fumbles, as we all know. Bernie has complained about the spending habits of his daughters. Tamara has the $100 million house, and until recently had $66 million worth of jewelry. Sister Petra’s wedding reportedly cost $5 million, and she later paid $85 million for a Los Angeles house that had belonged to the late Hollywood producer Aaron Spelling.

Bernie has had tangles with the law and tax authorities. He settled accusations that he had bribed a German banker. Without admitting guilt the settlement came to $100 million. He paid the British tax people $10 million to settle a claim. Bernie once remarked, according to ESPN, while referring to Danica Patrick, IndyCar and Nascar driver, that “You know I’ve got one of those wonderful ideas…women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.” Lovely.

And finally: “In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done.”

Yes Bernie, We are all stunned.

Kenmore Soup

Not exactly catchy, but apropos. And here is why.

There are times when our (Kenmore) fridge needs a little scrutiny. Recently there were some veggies that needed attention. As I explored the fridge, I found two cups of shredded green cabbage, about a cup of cauliflower florets, two small onions (which I diced), a cup or so of baby carrots (rinsed), an orange pepper, starting to wrinkle, but still good, and which was diced (red or yellow pepper will do as well); and finally a couple of garlic cloves, finely sliced all of which went into the slow cooker together with the contents of a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, about 4 cups or more of water to cover, and two tablespoons of “Better than Bouillon,” veggie version (although chicken bouillon does nicely). I cooked it on high heat for about four hours, until the carrots were soft. I took out the wand and pureed, then added a tablespoon of garam masala, a half tablespoon of turmeric, a half tablespoon of fenugreek seeds, a half tablespoon of crushed coriander and a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes and pureed some more before reducing the heat to low for two hours to fully integrate the spices. The soup was ready once sea salt and cracked pepper were added.

Just to take it up a bit, I opted to bake (at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes) three chicken breasts (fresh by the way) that were coated in olive oil, and once done, were cut into half inch pieces and added to the soup for those last two hours. Just before serving I added a half cup of heavy cream.

If you are vegan inclined, omit the heavy cream, use the veggie bouillon, and hold back the chicken. Either way is good.

Lest We Forget

The “Greatest Generation” never had it easy. Often growing up as the children of immigrants, or as immigrants themselves; surviving the hard times of the Great Depression, then only to be thrown into the calamity and chaos of the Second World War. As their sons and daughters, we are the fortunate ones.

It truly hits home every November 11 – and quite frequently through the rest of the year – when my thoughts are with those who gave of themselves, often with their lives. What began as Armistice Day, the anniversary that celebrated the end of the Great War in 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, is marked each year as Remembrance Day in Canada and elsewhere, and in the United States, as Veterans Day.

As it turns out, we were able to celebrate Veterans Day this year in La Quinta, CA. In a standing room only event held in the open air courtyard at City Hall, Mayor Linda Evans and other elected officials honoured a number of veterans in attendance, and paid special homage to ten veterans (as is done each year in La Quinta), including one Marine officer who had served from 1942 to 1946. This was a 90 minute service that went by quickly; with the politicians wisely keeping their speeches brief; with beautiful renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (sung “a cappella” by two young ladies) and “God Bless the U.S.A.” (“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free … And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me”); a fly-over at just the right moment; and the La Quinta High School band doing the Armed Forces medley including, “Anchors Aweigh” for the Navy, “The U.S. Air Force” song (“Off we go into the wild blue yonder …”), and “The Marine Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli …”).

As heartfelt as the La Quinta celebration was, home is where my heart is on November 11.

My thoughts on this day are always of my father. He gave five years in the prime of his life after enlisting to fight in the Second World War. Those were years never to be retrieved. He had wanted to become a farmer, and that was no longer possible. But he never looked back. Never any bitterness of the hardships of the years preceding the War; never dwelled (outside of his thoughts) about the friends he saw maimed or who were lost; and gave his time in later years to those who were blinded in action – something I discovered only at his memorial service (reminding me that truly charitable acts do not ask for recognition). He will always be my hero.

Poppies were being handed out in La Quinta today, with beautiful ceramic poppies given to the veterans attending the celebration. And that brings me to the poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

When I re-read “In Flanders Fields,” each November 11, my thoughts are for those brave young men; very young men in most cases, who would never return home, never marry, have children, or have anything like that lives most of have had. “In Flanders Fields” was written in 1915 by John McCrae, MD, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Dr. McCrae (above) died in France in 1918, never to return home.

Current Viewing

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

I sat through this documentary transfixed. Linda Ronstadt IS the voice. She took that voice successfully across musical genres; pretty much any genre she chose. There was rock, country, R&B, folk, opera (“The Pirates of Penzance”), songs described as “standards” arranged by Nelson Riddle, and Mexican classics (to celebrate her heritage) – the last a measure of her determination to diversify and challenge herself. Her 1987 album “Canciones De Mi Padre” stands to this day as the best selling non-English language musical album in America.

The film pays homage to Linda from any number of sources – producers, record moguls, music critics, songwriters (Linda did not write, but elevated the work of others), contemporaries (Dolly Parton, Emmy Lou Harris, Don Henley) – and portrays her just as we saw her throughout her career; the consummate professional, a feminist, albeit unassuming and unspoiled by her success.

Linda in the preceding at the peak her fame. She is 73 years old now and retired from performing 10 years ago. She has Parkinson’s Disease and suffers only for not being able to sing. You will sit through this film with smiles, laughter and tears, and above all you will hear that voice. There are none like it. Below: Linda as she appeared in this year on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Grateful for a life well-lived.

Rotten Tomatoes gave this film an 87 (critic’s score) and 99 (audience score). The New York Times critic, A.O. Scott, said of the film (and of Linda), “The political intelligence and matter-of-fact feminism that emerge in this portrait are among its most intriguing aspects. Her clear-eyed, down-to-earth thoughts on her profession, her family and American culture (musical and otherwise) make her someone you want to know better.” Yes, you would.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

A Quentin Tarantino movie will guarantee at least two things; it will be violent, and it will endure in your thinking. Recall “Reservoir Dogs” (violence), “Pulp Fiction” (remarkably non-linear, violent, and not without humour), “Kill Bill” (Volumes I and II) and one of my favourites, “Inglourious Bastards.” All this from a guy, who, in his early years, spent five of them working in a video store.

“Once Upon a Time” takes you in directions you cannot predict: A complicated plot that provides a completely different (and completely satisfying) spin on the Manson murders, as fact gives way to fiction. The Guardian reviewer wrote, “And then we get the finale, a piece of bloody mayhem which leads to a bizarre denouement which might well have you replaying the entire film in your head. It’s entirely outrageous, disorientating, irresponsible, and also brilliant.”

You will sit through this with a newly found appreciation for pit bulls and flame-throwers. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are the stars, with Pitt the more appealing of the two (his appeal with the ladies enhanced as he removes his shirt to repair a TV antenna. As an aside, my grandchildren have no idea what a TV antenna is). There are some fascinating bits and pieces: An eerie visit by Pitt’s character to the Charles Manson compound that causes you to want to cry out, “get the hell out of there!” Then a nice scene between DiCaprio and a young actress (played by Julia Butters) that goes deep for both him and the audience. And another great scene where Pitt’s character takes on Jackie Chan. Poor Jackie. I had to see this movie twice.

Downton Abbey

I am a fan. Sunday nights, when not blessed with Sunday Night Football, were usually devoted to “Downton Abbey” on Masterpiece Theatre. Having missed a few episodes over six seasons, I went out and bought the DVD set. And now we have the movie.

The reviews have been mixed. The NY Times reviewer wrote, “Viewers who have faithfully followed the genteel tribulations of the Crawley clan for six seasons of glittering television will need no encouragement from me to re-immerse themselves in the show’s warm bath of privilege. Those who prefer their ablutions minus the scum of entitlement can safely give this big-screen special a miss.” Perhaps a little too harsh, and certainly not very Republican. But it is the NY Times.

The Roger Ebert reviewer gave the film three and a half stars out of four and wrote that, “The star rating at the top of this review is not for people who don’t like “Downton Abbey,” have never seen it, or grew tired of watching it long before it finished its six-season run.” I agree with the star rating, along with the millions who have now seen the movie. I would see this again just to have the pleasure of watching Maggie Smith in action. Here is Dame Maggie (as Violet Crawley) in the following photo enjoying repartee with Penelope Wilton (as Isobel Merton). With her crisp way of delivering dialogue, she takes sarcasm to new heights. “Downton Abbey” the movie is worth your time, if you are at the very least a romantic, if you love happy endings, and if you think it is acceptable having the people living in your basement see to your every need. Oh, and if you are a fan.

Judy

“Judy” has had generally positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 86% for audiences and 83% among critics. I regret to say I sat through this thing hoping it would end prematurely. I didn’t dare leave my seat early however, for two reasons: I thought the film might get better; and it was pretty obvious to me that I was the only male in the small theatre audience and I didn’t want to be jeered. I was more concerned about the latter.

I have a lot of admiration for Renee Zellweger (above), she of “Chicago” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and at the outset, I thought, “what a brilliant choice for playing Judy Garland!” But after an hour or so of having Renee, with lips pursed and eyes in a perpetual squint (as I thought only Alec Baldwin could manage), I had had enough. A Judy Garland biopic could have been so much more: More of the early years as a youthful vaudevillian, more of the Andy Hardy years, more of her rapid descent from innocence, more about what a terrific actress she was (“A Star is Born,” “Judgement at Nuremberg”) and less about the final weeks of her life. I will remember Judy Garland for “The Wizard of Oz,” and not at all for “Judy.”

Joker

Todd Phillips directed “The Hangover” and its two sequels, “Old School,” ‘Starsky and Hutch,” and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Borat.” He is credited with producing, writing and directing “Joker,” which debuted in theatres in October. “Joker” came with some fanfare, as it won the Golden Lion (the highest award) at the Venice International Film Festival. Many outside of Italy, and Venice in particular, wonder why. The NY Times critic, A.O. Scott, wrote, “Are you kidding me?” The Guardian headlined “Joker” as “The most disappointing film of the year.” I tend to agree with the critics at the Times and the Guardian. I have to admit to liking “The Hangover” and even “Starsky and Hutch.” And loved “Borat.” But Mr. Phillips comes up short on this one. Or maybe it’s overkill. Subtlety is not his forte. Social and economic inequities, lack and loss of civility, the refusal to deal with those suffering from mental illness – are themes that have been dealt with more successfully elsewhere.
I believe Jaoquin Phoenix is a brilliant, albeit intense actor, but a little Jaoquin goes a long way (in much the same fashion as Renee Zellweger squinted her way through “Judy”). Hard to recommend this one, although Joaquin showed some nifty dance moves.

The Kominsky Method

Now in its second season on Netflix, “The Kominsky Method” features Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin as septuagenarian best friends; Douglas’ character (Sandy Kominsky), a former actor now running an acting school, and Arkin’s character (Norman Newlander), Sandy’s agent, and a recent widow, in what seems like constant (and often witty) conversation with each other. Those are the gents above, all dressed up for the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, for which Michael Douglas won the Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy. I would have chosen Arkin, who has “droll” down to perfection. But no matter, “The Kominsky Method” is fun to watch. The fun is enhanced by a great supporting cast (Sarah Baker for one), and a parade of character actors. Danny DeVito plays Sandy’s urologist; Nancy Travis is Sandy’s love interest; Jane Seymour as the new woman in Norman’s life; Lisa Edelstein (from “House”) as Norman’s daughter, in and out of rehab; and in a great casting move, Kathleen Turner as Sandy’s ex-wife (who can forget Douglas and Turner (Kathleen below) in “Romancing the Stone?”).

Jojo Rabbit

As I was leaving the theatre after watching “Jojo Rabbit,” I asked two elderly ladies walking alongside me whether they liked the movie. Their answer, in unison, “Yes!” I agreed with them, but added, that as much I enjoyed “Jojo Rabbit” I might find it difficult to recommend. They nodded their agreement, while I am sure they were thinking, “Wasn’t it nice of that young man to ask?”

Taiki Waititi directed “Jojo Rabbit,” following on his efforts directing “Thor: Ragnarok” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” I truly enjoyed the latter, but have not seen the former, which was a tremendous box office success.

“Jojo Rabbit” has been described as an anti-hate satire, offering a balance between fantasy and drama. The movie is set in a small town in Germany during the last days of the Second World War. Johannes (“Jojo’) is a ten year Nazi zealot with an imaginary friend (Adolf Hitler as played by the director himself), and whose mother (Scarlett Johansson), a fervent anti-Nazi, is harbouring a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa) in an attic space. It is when “Jojo” discovers Elsa that the movie takes off.

The reviews for “Jojo Rabbit” are generally positive, yet seem cautious considering the subject matter.

Time magazine’s reviewer had this comment: “Even though filmmakers as revered as Charlie Chaplin and Ernst Lubitsch have made movies that lampoon the Nazis and their one-note obsessions, Holocaust humor is still a delicate proposition. Laughter may be one of humankind’s best survival mechanisms, but jokes about Hitler and those who did his bidding aren’t an easy sell–their crimes are too inhumane to allow for laughs.” The review went on to write, “It’s Waititi’s ability to balance unassailably goofy moments with an acknowledgment of real-life horrors that makes the movie exceptional.”

The critic Richard Roeper wrote that the movie “draws upon the past to make salient points about the state of the world today, with Waititi urging us (sometimes in not so subtle ways) to pay attention to history, to learn from it, to strive to be better. Hardly a new message, but still one well worth delivering.”

Roman Griffin Davis portrays “Jojo,” and plays him well. And yes, I would urge you to see “Jojo Rabbit.”

Obituaries

Have you ever wondered how your obit might read? Most obituaries are written by a family member, and are filled with words of love and appreciation. As they should be. No surprises, and if it happened to be your obituary, you would be pleased. In January of this year, I wrote about my vision of “Heaven.” The way it came out, as one of my “blogue” readers shared, “I’m almost looking forward to Heaven” Why not. You might get to meet Winston Churchill, Arnold Palmer and “Millie,” and live in a really nice condo. On a golf course!

Then I got to thinking; when it comes to obituaries, to be on the safe side, write your own. Say all the nice things that others might (or should) say about you, and get a few things off your chest. Things that might have annoyed you (“How fast are you going, do you know the speed limit?” and “You said you’d be home two hours ago – where were you?”) and you decided at the time not to offer any real defence. So, I beginning to think that now is the time to put a few things down on paper, just to be prepared.

But, in the meantime, I will introduce you to Joe Heller. Or rather, the obituary for Joe Heller. Joe is not to be confused with the author, Joseph Heller, who wrote “Catch – 22.” Our Joe Heller passed away only recently, on September 8, in Centerbrook, CT. And by most accounts, he was an ordinary man. Or was he? Not according to his obituary.

That is Joe above. His obituary appeared in the Hartford Courant newspaper, written by his daughter, and it went something like this (leaving out some of the text):

“Joe Heller made his last undignified and largely irreverent gesture on September 8, 2019, signing off on a life, in his words, “generally well-lived and with few regrets.” When the doctors confronted his daughters with the news last week that “your father is a very sick man,” in unison they replied, “you have no idea.”

God thankfully broke the mold after Joe was born to the late Joseph Heller, Sr. and Ruth Marion (Clock) on January 24, 1937 in New Haven, CT. Being born during the depression shaped Joe’s formative years and resulted in a lifetime of frugality, hoarding and cheap mischief, often at the expense of others. Being the eldest was a dubious task but he was up for the challenge and led and tortured his siblings through a childhood of obnoxious pranks, with his brother, Bob, generally serving as his wingman. Pat, Dick and Kathy were often on the receiving end of such lessons as “Ding Dong, Dogshit” and thwarting lunch thieves with laxative-laced chocolate cake and excrement meatloaf sandwiches. His mother was not immune to his pranks as he named his first dog, “Fart,” so she would have to scream his name to come home if he wandered off.

Joe started his long and illustrious career as a Library Assistant at Yale Law School Library alongside his father before hatching a plan with his lifelong buddies … to join the Navy and see the world together. Their plot was thwarted and the three were split up when Joe pulled the “long straw” and was assigned to a coveted base in Bermuda where he joined the “Seabees,” Construction Battalion, and was appointed to the position of Construction Electrician’s Mate 3rd class. His service to the country and community didn’t end after his honorable discharge. Joe was a Town Constable, Volunteer Fireman and Ambulance Association member, Cross walk guard, Public Works Snow Plower and a proud member of the Antique Veterans organization.

(Mr. Heller’s body was carried to the cemetery in a 1941 Mack fire truck he had helped to restore).

Joe was a self-taught chemist and worked at Cheeseborough-Ponds where he developed one of their first cosmetics’ lines. There he met the love of his life, Irene, who was hoodwinked into thinking he was a charming individual with decorum. Boy, was she ever wrong. Joe embarrassed her daily with his mouth and choice of clothing. To this day we do not understand how he convinced our mother, an exceedingly proper woman and a pillar in her church, to sew and create the colorful costumes and props which he used for his antics.

Growing up in Joe’s household was never dull. If the old adage of “You only pull the hair of those you love” holds true, his three daughters were well loved.
Joe was a frequent customer of the girls’ beauty shops, allowing them to “do” his hair and apply make-up liberally. He lovingly assembled doll furniture and built them a play kitchen and forts in the back yard. During their formative years, Joe made sure that their moral fibers were enriched by both Archie Bunker and Benny Hill. When they began dating, Joe would greet their dates by first running their license plates and checking for bald tires. If their vehicle passed inspection, they were invited into the house where shotguns, harpoons and sheep “nutters” were left clearly on display.

After retiring from running Bombaci Fuel, he was perhaps, most well-known for his role as the Essex Town “Dawg Kecher.” He refused to put any of his “prisoners” down and would look for the perfect homes for them. One of them was a repeat offender who he named “Asshole” because no owner would ever keep him for very long because he was, in fact, an asshole. My Dad would take his buddy on daily rides in his van and they’d roam around town with the breeze blowing through both of their fur. He never met a dog he didn’t like, the same could not be said for the wanna-be blue bloods, snoots and summer barnacles that roamed about town. His words, not ours. Well maybe not exactly his words as those would been much more colorful.

Joe was a frequent shopper at the Essex Dump and he left his family with a house full of crap, 300 pounds of birdseed and dead houseplants that they have no idea what to do with. If there was ever a treasure that he snatched out from under you among the mounds of junk, please wait the appropriate amount of time to contact the family to claim your loot. We’re available tomorrow. Joe was also a consummate napper. There wasn’t a road, restaurant or friend’s house in Essex that he didn’t fall asleep on or in. There wasn’t an occasion too formal or an event too dour that Joe didn’t interrupt with his apnea and voluminous snoring.

Besides his beloved wife, Irene, and brother, Bobby, Joe was pre-deceased by his pet fish, Jack, who we found in the freezer last week.

Left to squabble over his vast fortune, real estate holdings and “treasures” are his three daughters Michelle Heller (Andrew Bennett) of Newton, MA, Lisette Heller (Lenny Estelle) of Ivoryton, CT and Monique Heller (John Parnoff) of Old Lyme, CT. He relished his role as Papa and Grampa Joe to Zachary, Maxwell and Emily Bennett, Megan, Mackenzie and Ryan Korcak, and Giovanna and Mattea Parnoff and hopes that he taught at least one of them to cuss properly.

No flowers, please. The family is seeking donations to offset the expense of publishing an exceedingly long obituary which would have really pissed Joe off. Seriously, what would have made him the happiest is for you to go have a cup of coffee with a friend and bullshit about his antics or play a harmless prank on some unsuspecting sap.

A celebration of his life, with Joe laid out in all his glory, will be held on Thursday, September 12, at the Essex Fire Department, 11 Saybrook Road, from 4-7. A light dinner will be served as Joe felt no get-together was complete without food. None of his leftovers or kitchen concoctions will be pawned off on any unsuspecting guests. Feel free to be as late as you’d like as Joe was never on time for anything because of the aforementioned napping habits. Joe despised formality and stuffiness and would really be ticked off if you showed up in a suit. Dress comfortably. The family encourages you to don the most inappropriate T-Shirt that you are comfortable being seen in public with as Joe often did. Everybody has a Joe story and we’d love to hear them all. Joe faced his death and his mortality, as he did with his life, face on, often telling us that when he dropped dead to dig a hole in the back yard and just roll him in. Much to his disappointment, he will be properly interred with full military honors (and maybe Jack) next to his wife on Friday, September 13, at 10:00 am in Centerbrook Cemetery. Sorry, Mom, Lisette and I did the best we could to take care of him and keep him out of your hair as long as we could. Back in your court now.”

According to the New York Times, at the memorial service, a Navy honour guard — long known as the Antique Veterans Organization because of its aging membership — delivered a rifle salute, played taps and performed a ceremonial flag-folding ceremony.

The honour guard’s commander, Joseph Barry, admitted that Mr. Heller would have “dropped a few F-bombs” in declaring the whole thing superfluous.

After the burial, Joe’s daughter Monique, and the author of his obituary, is shown holding the American flag presented in her father’s honour, and said that, “people like my dad are the backbone of this country and I think the world wants to hear their stories.’’

So true. And I post this blog piece with no small amount of sorrow as we have just lost our dear friend – Brian Tinkler – who with his sense of humour and his love of humour, would have enjoyed reading about Joe Heller.

Kalpudding (Swedish Meatloaf)

I am a big fan of meatloaf, especially as the weather turns cool, and with the fireplace turned on, it is time for comfort food. There is nothing more comforting than meatloaf, and over the years, I have tried numerous approaches. The following is one I adapted from a NY Times recipe, and it seemed to go over well with guests.

Start with a head of green cabbage – a three pounder will do – core and shred, as you would for cole slaw. Start with 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and as it foams, add 3 tablespoons of molasses. Then add your cabbage and cook gradually. Stir often. It may take 30 minutes before the cabbage is caramelized.

Remove the cabbage from the skillet, and add 3 or 4 rashers of bacon, chopped. Once the bacon has softened, add 2 diced small onions, and sauté the mixture until the onions have almost caramelized. Re-introduce the cabbage to the skillet, mixing in cracked black pepper and salt to taste, and keep the mixture warm.

In a sauté pan, brown two or three bratwurst sausages (casings removed and sausages chopped). Mix in a quarter cup of shredded cheddar cheese (I use bratwurst that already incorporates cheddar; otherwise mix in the quarter cup of cheddar). Let cool.

In a large bowl, mix together a pound of lean ground beef and a pound of ground pork, together with a quarter cup of bread crumbs, and a half cup of heavy cream. Add two-thirds of the warm cabbage mixture and the sausage/cheese mixture. Add more heavy cream if needed. There will be enough of the mixture to fill two loaf pans (which will have been sprayed with cooking spray). Take the remaining one-third cabbage mixture and cover the top of each meatloaf. Let them sit while the oven heats to 350 degrees F. Bake the meatloaf for an hour. The cabbage topping will get crispy. Once done, let the loafs sit for 10 minutes before serving.

The NY Times recipe called for a lingonberry sauce (very Swedish), but alas, lingonberries were nowhere to be had. I opted instead for a rich beef gravy and garlic mashed potatoes. My Kalpudding looked much like this:

Utah

For many western snowbirds, U.S. Interstate 15 is the most direct route south, especially for those heading to Arizona. And I-15 cuts right through Utah (and the state capitol, Salt Lake City) making its way to Nevada and on. But, for those who want to spend some time in Utah, it will be time well spent; and that is the reason for this “blogue” entry.

Beautiful – is it not? The photo is of the Delicate Arch, prominent in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, (some refer to the park as the “Holey Land”). Moab is about a four hour drive from Salt Lake City.

We arrived in Utah with some trepidation some twenty years ago, and left with much reluctance eight years later. Our reluctance is perhaps easy to understand. There is the beauty of the state, highlighted by a disproportionate number of state and national parks (there are 6 national parks in Utah; more than any other state; and some of which I will come back to); a climate that features lots of sunshine, with mild winters and hot summers; fascinating cultural characteristics; and people who are quick to offer their friendship.

Here are some facts about Utah:

  • More than 60% of Utah’s 3 million plus residents are of the Mormon faith – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
    The State of Utah has profound religious underpinnings, having been settled in the late 1840s by Mormon pioneers. The church patriarch was Joseph Smith, but it was Brigham Young who led the Mormons to Utah. Brigham Young established Salt Lake City and its environs, and entrenched the LDS Church in business and in the government of the State.
  • The Great Salt Lake, slightly northwest of the capitol, is four times saltier than the world’s oceans. Were you to completely boil a quart of water from the Lake, a cup of salt would result.
  • Utah residents most often refer to themselves as “Utahns,” not “Utahans” as dictionaries might suggest.
  • After Nevada, Utah is the sunniest state in the U.S., with more than 300 days of sunshine annually.
  • Utah has more plastic surgeons per capita than any other state, and Salt Lake City has more than any other U.S. city. The results were quite visible, according to my sons during their visits.
  • Utah is known as the “Beehive State,” a moniker that is attributed to the early Mormon settlers – productive workers who regarded themselves as the “hives of industry.”
  • Utah has the highest consumption of Jello in the U.S., and as such, Jello is the State’s official snack.
  • Utah has some quirky liquor laws. Alcohol is purchased in State stores, although 3.2% beer is available in supermarkets (except on Sundays). Downing a 6 pack of 3.2 beer might give you a slight buzz. (Thankfully, 3.2 beer may soon disappear). In 1998, upon arriving in Salt City City, I was unable to order an alcoholic beverage without first ordering a meal (if you were a member of a private club, the need to order food was waived). Many of the liquor laws were loosened prior to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games held in Salt Lake City. That being said, I found that Utah bars and restaurants are still home to the world’s smallest martinis – just enough gin to cover an olive. Nothing like these. Two are just right, by the way …

  • The State bird of Utah is the California Gull. In the late spring of 1848 as farmers’ crops were maturing in the Salt Lake Valley, swarms of insects (referred to as “Mormon crickets”), began to devour anything in their paths, only to be thwarted by swarms of gulls. The crops were saved; the gull is revered.

  • Above is the seagull statue in Salt Lake’s Temple Square.
  • Polygamy was banned by the LDS Church in 1890, as a condition for gaining statehood. But it is estimated that 40,000 polygamous marriages remain in the state, mainly among fundamentalists who have broken away from the LDS Church. I can say from personal experience that a visit to a local Costco will prove that polygamy is still quite visible. One guy, seven wives, three carts.
  • In May 2000, the town of Virgin, Utah, passed a law was that required every homeowner to keep and maintain a firearm. Exceptions to this law included, “the mentally ill, convicted felons, conscientious objectors and people who cannot afford to own a gun.”

  • Love this photo. Robert Redford and Paul Newman as the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. Their real names were Harry Longabagh a.k.a. Sundance, and Robert LeRoy Parker as Butch. Harry and Robert headed a gang known as the “Wild Bunch,” specializing in robbing trains and banks. Apparently the pair met their fate in Bolivia, as the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” would suggest. Great movie, and wouldn’t be the same were the title “Robert and Harry.” The movie, of course, spawned the Sundance Movie Festival held each year in Sundance, UT and Park City, UT. Upon reflection, how cool are these guys?
  • In Utah, the town Levan lies pretty much at the centre of the state. “Levan” is “navel” spelled backwards. “Ylleb Nottub” obviously would not work.

But back for a moment or two to visit some of the treasures of Utah:

That is Zion National Park in the foregoing. Spectacular. A short distance from St. George, UT, which in itself is a winter getaway from Salt Lake City. In January, Salt Lake City Utahns take the four hour trip to St. George to enjoy the 60 to 70 degree F weather, as we often did. On one occasion we stayed at the “Seven Wives Inn,” a bed and breakfast across the street from Brigham Young’s winter home.

Brigham Young led a caravan of pioneers west and, upon seeing the Salt Lake Valley, according to legend, proclaimed, “this is the place.” The date was July 24, 1847, and the 24th is a date that is celebrated in Utah each year as “Pioneer Day.” Following the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young had taken on the presidency of the LDS Church. Smith had published The book of Mormon in 1830, but was killed in 1844. Young headed the LDS Church until his death in 1877. There is much to the life of Brigham Young worth researching, and I will leave that to your own curiosity. But among other accomplishments, Brigham Young was a husband to 55 women. Which has led me to wonder; were there 54 local guys who went through life wifeless? Were they left wandering aimlessly through the Utah desert in search of marital bliss?

OK. While you ponder that … here is Bryce Canyon National Park. Famous for its formation of “hoodoos.” Also spectacular and just 5 hours from Salt Lake City.

Utah has a National Basketball Association franchise dubbed the Utah Jazz. Jazz itself has no real underpinnings in Utah. The Jazz were relocated from New Orleans (which is all about jazz) in 1979. The Jazz have had some good years, but never good enough to win an NBA championship. But Utah is a basketball crazy state, and the Jazz are sold out – always.

A higher percentage of Utahns are married than any other state in the country; but Utah has a higher divorce rate than average in the country as well. It has the youngest population in the U.S. and the highest birth rate.

Utah has one the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S., and I can tell you from personal (albeit, professional) experience, that Utah had one the highest rates of consumption of anti-depressant drugs (this from data several years back).

Above is the Mormon Tabernacle in Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake. A must see while in Salt Lake City. The Tabernacle is famous for its choir, and for hosting the semi-annual general meetings of the LDS Church.

Below: Canyonlands National Park. A mere four an half hours from Salt Lake City. Close to Moab. The landscape was carved by the flow of Colorado and Green Rivers. Certainly worth getting off I-5 for a few hours.

Famous Utahns

That’s Butch on the left, with Sundance.

Then there are Steve Young, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, who is a great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young; Loretta Young, movie star of the 30’ and 40s and an Oscar winner (and best seen in “The Bishop’s Wife,” with Cary Grant); Billy Casper and Johnny Miller, former professional golfers; Robert Redford (actually born in California, but lists Sundance, UT as his home); Roseanne Barr (enough said); and Donnie and Marie Osmond, toothsome brother and sister act, and still wowing them in Vegas (and enough said).

Pickleball

During a recent July golf get together, three of my university classmates, Winnipeggers all (but now relocated to Lotus Land), suggested I write something about pickleball. And there was the further suggestion from one of the three (he shall go nameless) that I incorporate lots of pictures, with fewer things that have to be read. So here it is … well, maybe not yet, as I must digress.

That is Jimmy Buffett below. Jimmy is famous for his song “Margaritaville” – which he combined with a lot of business savvy that has propelled his net worth into the $600 million ozone level.

Jimmy founded Margaritaville Holdings, which among other things owns restaurants, hotels, and retirement communities. For example, Margaritaville Holdings has partnered with a real estate development company to create Latitude Margaritaville, a retirement community in Daytona Beach, FL., that is proposed to have 6000 homes on completion. Homes range in price from $200,000 to $400,000.

You could pick up this little gem below for just over $300,000. It is the aptly named “Parrot Model,” keeping in mind Jimmy’s fondness for parrots and the Parrotheads who attend his concerts. The house includes 2 beds and 2 baths and 1900 air-conditioned square feet. And with a covered lanai to keep the bugs out.

Then there is the Latitude lifestyle. Here, for example, might be some of your new best friends. The one lady must have just told a “Dad’ joke. “What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot!” Just too funny. And I am 100 percent certain they are socking back margaritas.

OK. It turns out that Jimmy had the temerity to have his Margarita Holdings sponsor the U. S. national pickleball championships to be held this November in Indian Wells, CA. While pickleball is embraced by all ages, it is particularly appealing to an older demographic – those who might want to live in Latitude communities (more are planned), and those who believe that a salt-rimmed, quart-sized glass of margarita is nirvana. From November 2 through 11 the United States Pickleball Association (USPBA) will present the Margaritaville United States National Pickleball Championships at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. (The Garden each March hosts the BNP Paribas Open, which many tennis aficionados consider the 5th Grand Slam tennis event). There will be 49 pickleball courts set up for the November event, which will attract more than 2500 pickleball enthusiasts. The Tennis Garden in the following. The Garden is owned by Larry Ellison. More on Larry later.

This photo was taken at the 2018 Championships, and I am starting to see some of the benefits of pickleball. On the one hand, if you are playing mixed doubles, you may get a really nice hug. And secondly, as a spectator, there are plenty of good seats available.

Pickleball seems to have had its origins in 1965. The story goes this way: After a Saturday game of golf, a U.S. congressman from Washington state, Bill Pritchard, returned home with his playing partner, Bill Bell, to find their families at a loss for something to do. The gentlemen sought out some badminton equipment, but finding none, they used some table tennis paddles and a perforated plastic ball and set up the badminton net at 60 inches; soon lowered to 36 inches. The following weekend, a neighbour, Barney McCallum, joined his two friends to formulate the rules of the game. Two years later, another neighbour created the first permanent pickleball court.

And in 1976 the first pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, WA.
Today, according to the USPBA, which was formed in 1984, there are more than 4,000 pickleball locations in the U.S., along with more than 3 million players. And the game is spreading internationally.

An interesting name, pickleball, and like the racket sport, squash, pickle-ball has nothing to do with food. There are a couple of versions as to the origin of the name, but the one I like is confirmed by Barney McCallum, who recalled that the Prichard’s dog, Pickles, would, during the course of a game, run off with the ball.

One of the young ladies at my gym remarked that she plays pickleball when wintering in Mexico. Because of the noise the game creates the locals refer to pickleball players as “Woodypeckers.” Gotta like that.

Pickleball is an ideal sport for any age, but has caught on with those of us who are considered mature, at least in age. It is affordable; all one needs is a paddle and a supply of balls. That’s maybe a hundred bucks. Running shoes are a good idea. Knee braces might help, but are not mandatory. And there are courts everywhere – many of which are public. I don’t know of any Pickleball Country Clubs.

Of course, in the States, as the game grows, so do the stakes. And now there are professional pickleball players. That’s Kyle Yates below, a pro, and yes, I can do without the fist pump. It’s only pickleball!

We have a pretty active pickleball community here in the Qualicum Beach area. I have to admit to trying my hand at pickleball a couple of years ago. How difficult could it be? I was a decent racquetball, squash and tennis player (in descending order); and pickleball doubles seemed so easy by contrast. But after my playing partner and I were drubbed by a couple of octogenarian ladies, I went back to the golf course. Fewer witnesses.

Pickleball to me is a game for all ages that should be the domain of the ageless. The photo following captures what I mean. This could easily have been taken here in Qualicum. The guy on the right looks like he just climbed off his combine.

I almost forgot about Larry Ellison. Larry bought the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 2009 for about $100 million. With a stratospheric fortune of some $60 billion, $100 million would seem to him like a rounding error. Larry was born in 1944 and in a rags-to-riches story he went from his birthplace in the Bronx to co-found Oracle, the database management behemoth. That’s Larry below. Seems happy enough …